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Porsche 718 Boxster S: Review

Crunch time - does what we've lost make up for what we've gained?

By Dan Trent / Saturday, April 09, 2016

Porsche can offset the loss of two cylinders and nearly a third of the engine capacity any way it likes with

. It can devote all its engineering expertise into giving the new turbo four mid-range punch to leave the outgoing flat-six reeling, all the while delivering favourable figures on every line of the spec sheet, be it hp or g/km. It can make it faster. It can draw links back to iconic flat-four powered Porsches of the past. Indeed, it's done all of this.

But for all the undoubted engineering skill the ultimate judgment about whether or not the 718 Boxster comes down to the way it sounds and the way it feels. The moment you first turn the key, those first few hundred yards of the

- that'll be the decider.

And one where the 718 initially stumbles. The start-up blare could - almost - still be the full six-pack. But the idle that follows definitely isn't. Vibration that wasn't present before trembles through the bulkhead; the engine gnashes away, mechanical sounds not entirely drowned out by the optional Sports Exhaust. There's a thud-thud-thud pattern to the detonations that immediately brings to mind another famous flat-four engined car. Yes, there's more than a hint of Subaru about it. But, could it just be ... perhaps ... yes, a bit of VW Beetle? Our man on the tech preview didn't agree. But, tellingly, the engineer he spoke to admitted the first version of the engine they built sang to a beat familiar from further back in Dr Porsche's back catalogue.

Family fortunes

And isn't that what makes the

in its various forms just that little bit special? For all those who've looked down their noses it's always had the cylinder count to qualify as a 'proper Porsche'. Remove that from the equation and you're playing to the tiresome 911 uber alles snobbery that says the real thing can only have a flat six behind the rear axle.

We've done the hand-wringing already though. We've got a weekend with one of just two 718 Boxsters in the country and some driving to do.

Just a quick catch-up on what else has changed first. The looks are evolutionary but nearly every panel has changed, sharp crease lines atop front and rear wings tightening up the appearance and new lights front and back giving it a clearer signature. Then there's that 'fixed' rear wing (it actually isn't) and the Porsche script across the controversial 'accent strip'.

Inside there's a smarter, clearer infotainment interface, a Carrera-style mode switch on the smaller steering wheel and a 10 per cent quicker rack connecting it to the front wheels via 911 Turbo steering gear. Spring and damper rates are increased by undisclosed amounts, the dampers themselves getting bigger bore pistons. Brakes are bigger and there's an additional crossmember in the rear subframe.

Our test car has the optional Porsche Torque Vectoring (a mechanical limited-slip diff with electronic garnish), the 15mm smaller GT Sport steering wheel, the mid-level PASM adaptive suspension that sits between the standard passive and 20mm lower PASM Sport, Sport Chrono and optional 19-inch wheels. And a few other things that boost the price from £50,695 stock to ... £62,794 as tested. At least the six-speed manual is 'free'.

Bored to tears

In fairness it's not your average four-cylinder engine and a good deal more exotic than those transplanted from regular Fiats, Toyotas, BMWs and Mercs and inserted into 4Cs, Lotuses, Z4s and SLCs. Bored out, but sharing the same stroke as both the 2.0-litre 718 and the six-cylinder Carrera 3.0, it's seriously oversquare, offering the first sense of its character.

Whereas the 911 has kept its full complement of cylinders and a healthy amount of displacement there's no hiding the flat-four's heavier reliance on the turbo. The trick variable vane item in the 2.5-litre S boosts less heavily than the one in the 2.0 but the 718 feels very forced induction. Nicely so in fact.

Even in the standard mode the rev counter zips round at the slightest brush of the throttle, boost not far behind and the familiar sense a big hand has scooped you up and flung you down the road very noticeable. Even exiting a 30 zone in fifth it'll pick up without a grumble, pulling hard where the normally-aspirated engine would be shuddering like a minicabber trying to haul his Avensis off the line in fourth.

This means no real incentive to stir the shifter around for any reason other than changing the tone. Which is a pity because the action is short, positive and the pedals perfectly placed and weighted. The crispness of the throttle response makes heel'n'toe blips hugely satisfying too. Or it would if you didn't have to totally switch off the stability control to turn off the auto blipping in anything other than Comfort mode. Given the Boxster's natural balance that's hardly going to give you GT2 RS style greasy palms. But given it's a menu selection or button away from manual switchability is infuriating.

Four equals more

As the revs and speeds build the vibrations and reminders you're down two cylinders fade. The sheer pace of the thing rather dominates too - the S is rapid with a capital 'f' in any which gear you happen to be in. And it revs. And revs. By the 7,500rpm redline you'll be travelling extremely quickly in any gear but it never tails off, never gets breathless and has enormous reach from mid-range to redline.

Roll off the accelerator and the fuel is cut to the injectors but the throttle stays open, 'pre-conditioning' the turbo as Porsche has it and maintaining the flow of boost so when you get back on it the engine picks up immediately. Detail touches but this and the willingness to rev mark this out as a turbo engine of real depth and character. Not to mention punch. Say what you like about 'ring laps but the S's 7min 42sec is 16 seconds faster than the old S and only a couple of seconds off that of a Cayman GT4 or a Carrera S with all the active anti-roll and four-wheel steer goodies.

Boxsters have always been supremely balanced, confidence inspiring and agile but with the faster steering and firmer chassis settings the 718 S makes a 911 feel a bit slow-witted. And this with the 'mid' suspension. At road speeds there's not even a hint of understeer, the electric steering brilliantly weighted if not especially communicative. In compensation the consistency of control weight and response lets you construct a complete picture of what's going on, making it feel effortless without forgetting to be involving too.

Basically if the 718 Boxster had been launched on a world that had never experienced a six-cylinder predecessor the unconditional plaudits would be flooding in. But for those with memories of the previous cars it's hard to ignore how richer the sensory delights would be in these upper reaches of the performance range. That searing cam shift at 4,000rpm in the flat-six, the induction howl beyond it and the turbine-like smoothness of the old engine is - inescapably - something we'll miss, especially at the speeds and revs at which the four is simply a (very effective) tool for going fast.

Indeed, at times it's almost too responsive - maintaining a steady 70-and-a-bit cruise on a camera regulated motorway requires constant attention, given this is just where it's spooling up and wanting to let rip. 10 per cent plus two can very easily become 10 per cent plus rather too much; if you want to enjoy that impressive motorway refinement best cough up the additional £219 for cruise control.

Targetted praise

Does anyone outside of our world care though? The market demands a new Boxster be faster and more frugal than the one it replaces. Fewer cylinders and turbocharging are the only way that's going to happen. To many people the more impressive numbers on the spec sheet, the boosty rush of low-rev acceleration and ease with which the 718 both mooches and maxes out will matter more than the noise it makes. Especially in an area of the rev range few will ever linger in.

What it loses in charisma it gains in complexity and technical intrigue. And sheer pace. This is a rapid, rapid motor vehicle that can thrill as much as the more raw alternatives while offering all the luxury and toys you could wish for. Or, rather, pay extra for - see below.

Which brings us full circle. Does mourning what's been lost make you less receptive to what's been gained? Or are you willing to embrace the new world (firing) order and trade imperfect but engaging character for more ability? Speed still matters. How you wish to achieve it will determine your view of this new turbocharged Boxster.


PORSCHE 718 BOXSTER S
Engine
: 2,497cc 4-cyl turbo
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 350@6,700rpm
Torque (lb ft): 310@1,900-4,500rpm
0-62mph: 4.6sec
Top speed: 177mph
Weight: 1,430kg (including 75kg driver/luggage)
MPG: 34.9
CO2: 184g/km
Price: £50,695 (£62,794 as tested comprising of £558 for Rhodium silver metallic paint, £1,680 for Bordeaux red leather interior, £1,344 for LED main headlights including Porsche Dynamic light system plus, £348 for rear ParkAssist, £344 for roll-over bar with Aluminium look paint finish, £971 for Porsche Active Suspension Management, £890 for Porsche Torque Vectoring including mechanically locking rear differential, £1,125 for Sport Chrono package including mode switch, £332 for Automatically dimming mirrors with integrated rain sensor, £186 for GT sport steering wheel, £312 for Sports seats Plus, £284 for Seat heating, £122 for ISOFIX child seat mounting points, £138 for Porsche crests embossed on headrests, £1,052 for Navigation module for Porsche Communication Management, £284 for Digital radio, £801 for Connect plus and £1,328 for Sports exhaust)

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